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Jon's Radio
Reentry
I got into the habit years ago of never really taking a vacation. I'd stay loosely tethered in order to make the friction of reentry tolerable. But this time around, thinking about what Ray Ozzie said ("For cryin' out loud: the damned machine was taking over"), I decided to let go completely. I left the laptop home -- it wouldn't have been much use anyway from our Maine getaway location -- and brought a pile of books instead. ...
pubdate
8/26/2002; 7:05:47 AM
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I got into the habit years ago of never really taking a vacation. I'd stay loosely tethered in order to make the friction of reentry tolerable. But this time around, thinking about what Ray Ozzie said ("For cryin' out loud: the damned machine was taking over"), I decided to let go completely. I left the laptop home -- it wouldn't have been much use anyway from our Maine getaway location -- and brought a pile of books instead.

The best of the lot was Steven Johnson's Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software. (So, OK, I didn't completely disconnect.) I'd seen Johnson's excellent talk at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology conference, which touched on the book's themes: urban spaces are self-organizing patterns, the patterns add up to a user interface that aids data storage and retrieval, blogspace is still figuring out how to achieve the effects that urban spaces do. If you like to think about this kind of thing, you'll love the book.

Anyway, reentry turned out to be less painful than I'd feared. There was the usual chore of hacking through the email: scanning the spam folder for false positives, resuming various threads in mid-juggle. But there was also an unexpected pleasure. I set my Radio news page1 to a thousand items, and hauled in the feeds.

1That's a Radio-specific localhost-style URL. The large number -- 1000 -- enables me to capture everything in one fell swoop. Then, because I have Checkboxes on or off? checked, I just need to uncheck those items that grab my interest. The Delete button reduces the haul to only those items.

You'd think a week's worth of almost a hundred RSS feeds would be overwhelming. To my surprise, it wasn't. I spent more time looking through this stuff than my email -- and I suppose this made my total reentry time more than it otherwise would have been -- but the process was enjoyable. There were no demands, no requests, just information useful in varying degrees. Crunching through an email backlog is a stressful experience. But nothing in the RSS haul raised my blood pressure. It was like eating a good dinner. I went for a walk afterward to digest it, and felt well-nourished.

...
pubdate
8/17/2002; 8:58:26 AM
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on vacation!
Mr. Slippery
I always wish I could read Neuromancer for the first time again, because nothing before or since has given me the rush that it did. What I did come across, recently, was True Names: And The Opening of the Cyberspace Frontier. It's a combination of Vernor Vinge's True Names, which was published in 1981 and presaged Neuromancer, and a collection of mid-90's essays on crypto, identity, digital rights management, and related themes. ...
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8/16/2002; 3:48:40 PM
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I always wish I could read Neuromancer for the first time again, because nothing before or since has given me the rush that it did. What I did come across, recently, was True Names: And The Opening of the Cyberspace Frontier. It's a combination of Vernor Vinge's True Names, which was published in 1981 and presaged Neuromancer, and a collection of mid-90's essays on crypto, identity, digital rights management, and related themes.

The protagonist of Vinge's story is Roger Pollack, but his True Name in "the Other Plane" (aka cyberspace) is Mr. Slippery. Strong pseudonymity is what protects and empowers Vinge's proto-hackers, and when Mr. Slippery's True Name becomes known to the authorities, he falls under their control.

Several of the accompanying essays amplify the theme, including Timothy May's 1996 True Nyms and Crypto Anarchy which says in part:

In the language of chaos theory, there are two "attractors." Each major terrorist or criminal "incident" -- Oklahoma City, TWA flight 800, pedophile rings on the Net, etc. -- jumps us forward toward a totalitarian surveillance state. However, each new anonymous remailer, each new Web site, each new T1 link, etc., moves us forward in the direction of crypto anarchy. Which side will win is unclear at this time, though my hunch is that we passed the point of no return some years ago and are now irreversibly on the road to crypto anarchy.

I wouldn't have said that in 1996. By then I had already concluded that we should in most cases strongly assert the binding between realworld identities (True Names) and cyberspace identities, rather than try to hide the connection. We should ensure that pseudonymity is available to whistle-blowers, abuse victims, or political dissidents who cannot publicly own their words, but in general, we should encourage and support transparency and accountability.

After 9/11 I'm even more convinced this is the correct approach, but the devil is always in the details. Identity is a slippery thing indeed. It is, writes Phil Becker, "different":

The level of concern people have about controlling their identity information has been repeatedly underestimated by many in the industry as they focus on technology. Microsoft is not alone in failing to realize that if you make an agreement to store identity data, everything you say about what you are doing with it and how you are protecting it will be examined under a microscope. What are sufficient best practices regarding data security, backup, etc. with sensitive company data are simply not good enough for identity data. [Digital ID World]

Those who would implement services that revolve around digital identity face a steep learning curve. Learning to manage this data in reliable, transparent, and accountable ways is one part of the challenge. Learning to decompose it into multiple facets used selectively for different purposes is another.

Users too will confront slippery new concepts. We'll need to learn how to project different facets of identity into different situations. In Groove, for example, your account is a container of identities, one (or more) of which represents you in a shared space. That's an idea that takes some getting used to.

We'll also need to learn, through trial and error, about the strange behaviors that digital identity can exhibit. For example, I've signed my email messages for years, but it wasn't until this week that I learned of a subtle "semantic attack" on this method of identity assertion. Mark O'Neill, writing in his blog about the UI problems that plague security software, comes to the tongue-in-cheek conclusion:

If a governmental wished to limit the use of strong encryption, a good approach would be to plant lousy UI engineers in the security departments of messaging companies, to ensure that the process of setting up encrypted and signed email is as confusing as possible. [Mark O'Neill]

Sadly that's not as facetious as Mark says, but here's the really interesting twist: sometimes, he notes, "signing everything is not a good idea." Here's why:

Don't sign a vague message like this:

-----BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE-----
Hash: SHA1

The deal's off

-----BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE-----
Version: PGP 6.5.2

iQA/AwUBOzOb9HwuAgBhK7KNEQLRSwCeMNxIiaf04ZejMbk
mcxjhTX7R/10AoJKsLbL3yWM4BrjmfvOYCGIdl0YG=h7ZQ
-----END PGP SIGNATURE-----

because you'll be subject to retargeting. There is nothing a cryptographer
or engineer can do to protect such an easily misunderstood message.

The Cryptography Mailing List

In other words, lacking any reference in the signed message body to the sender, the recipient, or the subject, this message can be hijacked into an unintended context.

Slippery stuff indeed. But it's a greased pig that we will all, sooner or later, have to wrestle with.

category
Identity/Privacy
"Sir, were there reasonable alternatives at the time?"
Having recently found his voice, Ray Ozzie is also finding that he has a lot to say -- both on his his blog and elsewhere. In an article today on news.com (the decorated version is better), he concludes: ...
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8/14/2002; 1:59:54 PM
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Having recently found his voice, Ray Ozzie is also finding that he has a lot to say -- both on his his blog and elsewhere. In an article today on news.com (the decorated version is better), he concludes:

Someday, some shareholder is going to lose quite a bit of money because an electronic message was "sniffed," or "spoofed." Someone's health or financial records are going to get into the wrong hands. A design will be compromised; someone will get hurt.

And at that point, network television cameras are going to be focused on a lawyer who's asking a company executive, or a government official, "Sir, were there reasonable alternatives at the time?"

(Also today, on his blog, Ray cites Charles Mann's extraordinary Atlantic Monthly piece on Bruce Schneier, which I mentioned here a couple of weeks ago, and which is now -- happily -- online. It's crucial for more people, and especially non-geeks, to understand Schneier's philosophical transformation and current thinking.)

For me, the most salient fact about Ray's career is that he has chosen to tilt at not just one windmill, but two: collaboration and security. We tend to preach both but practice neither. Partly that's because we care less about these things than we say we do and believe we should. Do you communicate with coworkers as often and as well as you'd like? (If not, why not?) Do you switch from your cordless phone to a landline when ordering a pizza with a debit card? (If not, why not?)

Partly, though, it's a matter of architecture. The path of least resistance rarely coincides with the path of highest value, but given the right architecture, it can. As Ray has discovered, blogging represents an architectural solution to some longstanding problems that have plagued public online discussion. Groove, likewise, aims for an architectural solution to secure collaboration. Since "security" and "collaboration" are contradictory and almost mutually exclusive from IT's perspective, that's quite a challenge. But it's inescapable.

Cyberspace is not really borderless. More accurately, it's resolving into sets of discrete, sometimes overlapping, sometimes concentric spaces. In these spaces, people and documents gather for moments, days, or years. Requirements for confidentiality run the gamut. Public and semi-public spaces need to advertise their existence, in order to promote awareness globally or within various groups. Private spaces need to be, well, private. Everywhere, strong identity (or at least strong pseudonymity) should be a given.

Weblogs don't yet offer an architectural solution to secure semi-public collaboration. Wrapping SSL and passwords around your blog can work, but the administrative hassles involved push this option far off the path of least resistance. Groove-style "always-on" and "complacency-immune" security sounds appealing, but it's not a solution yet either. It works by invitation only, and that cuts across the grain of blogging which thrives on linking and serendipitous discovery:

A collection of weblogs isn't just a pool of documents. It's also a knowledge network, where at each node human intelligence performs the routing function. The network's architecture is publish/subscribe. Its protocol is RSS (Rich Site Summary), a simple, powerful, and popular application of XML. Bloggers tune into other bloggers' RSS channels; they select and react to items flowing through those channels; they post items that also flow out on their own RSS channels. It's a kind of Krebs cycle where the input is individual thought and the output is group awareness. [Google and weblogs: best hope for KM]

So what's the architectural solution that will make the cells of this awareness network semi-permeable in the appropriate ways? Perhaps translucency is part of the answer. I'm not smart enough to see the endgame here. But I'm sure glad to see that Ray's on the case!

Addendum: The phrase "Patterns of cooperation without vulnerability" seems to capture the essence of the challenge.

category
CollaborationSecurity
Contacting me: High-tech PR in the age of blogs
In June I met Mark O'Neill, CTO of Vordel, at the Web Services Edge conference. Today Mark sent me a pointer to his new blog. As you can see by glancing at my channelroll, I've subscribed to Mark's blog. ...
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8/14/2002; 10:39:48 AM
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In June I met Mark O'Neill, CTO of Vordel, at the Web Services Edge conference. Today Mark sent me a pointer to his new blog. As you can see by glancing at my channelroll, I've subscribed to Mark's blog.

Six months ago I said we were reaching critical mass. Now I'm sure that's true, and I think the time is right for an essay I wrote then, but shelved, on how blogs will change high-tech PR.

Here's how it used to work, and still mostly does. A PR firm sends out an email blast to a bunch of tech journalists, announcing that a tech company's CTO will be speaking at an upcoming conference. Then come the follow-ups: "Did you get our message?" "Will you be attending the show?" "Can we arrange a time for you to speak with our CTO?" These follow-ups have earned the unflattering term flak. Like every tech journalist, I'm on the receiving end of a lot of this stuff. I've always understood why it was necessary, but was always frustrated by the inefficiency of the procedure. It was never clear how to change the equation, until now.

It happens that I've met Mark, and what Vordel does (web services security) is of interest to me, and although I won't be in SF on Sept 5 for the event Mark mentions in his blog, we'll undoubtedly be in touch. But quite often, I won't know the principal, or the company. What I hoped would start to happen, and am now certain will happen, is something like this:

Hi, I'm XXX, [CTO|Architect|Product Manager] for YYY which does ZZZ. I have started a weblog that describes what we do, how we do it, and why it matters. If this information is useful and relevant, our RSS feed can be found here. Thanks!

The PR folks at YYY now have a couple of ways to gauge the effect of this probe. The access logs for XXX's blog will show whether or not it provoked a clickthrough. They'll also show whether the RSS feed was hit, and if so, whether it continues to be hit on a regular basis.

If the journalist's blog runs in transparent mode (i.e., reveals its subscribed feeds as I do with my channelroll), things get even more interesting. The PR folk have a much clearer idea of what the journalist really follows than they can get from, say, MediaMap. If I tell MediaMap that I follow "networking" or "security," what does that mean, really? By exposing the RSS channels that have passed my filters and become part of my daily inbound feed, I am helping others who would like to become part of that feed understand what my filters are. And I'm helping myself by attracting related channels that ought to be part of my feed.

The larger themes at work here were stated first and best in the Cluetrain Manifesto. As a tech journalist, my work revolves around conversations with those of you who are continually inventing the stuff. (We're usually on the same wavelength because, in the modest ways appropriate to my interests and skills, I'm inventing stuff too.) As more of you begin to speak directly in weblogs, in your own voices, our conversations (both public and private) will deepen. There will be more context. I'll know where you're coming from, and why, and how you got where you are, and we can jump straight to the really interesting bit: where you're going (and why). Our conversations will inform and improve the quality of what ends up in the print version of InfoWorld. They'll enhance your web mindshare. And -- not coincidentally -- they'll be a lot of fun.

Blog migration, PageRank, and AuthorRank
Last week, when I moved this weblog to its new home, I left some loose ends. I'd meant to redirect my old homepage and RSS file to their new counterparts, but it wasn't immediately apparent how to get Radio to upload a page containing a client-side redirect. Then last night I realized that I ought to be able to use the same XML-RPC calls that Radio uses to talk to xmlstoragesystem.com. And sure enough, this worked: ...
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8/13/2002; 10:15:32 AM
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Last week, when I moved this weblog to its new home, I left some loose ends. I'd meant to redirect my old homepage and RSS file to their new counterparts, but it wasn't immediately apparent how to get Radio to upload a page containing a client-side redirect. Then last night I realized that I ought to be able to use the same XML-RPC calls that Radio uses to talk to xmlstoragesystem.com. And sure enough, this worked:

params = {"0100887", string.hashmd5("xxx"), {"index.html"}, {"<HTML><HEAD> <META HTTP-EQUIV=\"refresh\" CONTENT=\"0;URL=http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/\"> </HEAD></HTML>"}};

scratchpad.t = xml.rpc ("xmlstoragesystem.com", 80, "xmlStorageSystem.saveMultipleFiles", @params, rpcPath:"/RPC2");

I couldn't work out how to do the same for the RSS file, though, so I uploaded this final item instead:

<?xml version="1.0" ?>
<rss version="0.92">
<channel>
<title>Jon's Radio</title>
<description>Jon Udell's Radio Blog</description>
<copyright>Copyright 2002 Jon Udell</copyright>
<item>
<title>Redirection</title>
<description>This feed has moved to
http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/rss.xml. I've used a client-side redirect (HTTP-EQUIV="refresh") for the home page, but haven't figured out how to do the same for the RSS channel. If you see a way, please clue me in. Otherwise, if you want to keep subscribing to my feed, you'll have to switch your aggregator to the new link. Sorry for the inconvenience! - Jon
</description>
</item>
</channel>
</rss>

Did I miss something? Is there a way to make an XML file redirect without server-side control of the Content-type header? Inquiring minds want to know.

It has occurred to me that this transition may topple me from my recently-achieved position as the first "Jon" on Google. Oh well. Easy come, easy go. Of course, this is one more example of the need for a more durable notion of online identity. Google's PageRank has real economic value, as discussed in this article by Jill Walker:

When I link to B, I give B a link. That link translates to a precise (though undisclosed) value in Google's PageRank and in other indexing systems like Blogdex. The link has a clearer value to B than the content of B's page has to me or to my readers. I pay B for B's content with my link. [Links and Power: The Political Economy of Linking on the Web]

And yet, when you stop to think about it, it's not B -- the person -- to whom you are assigning value, but rather some page whose association with B may be fragile and temporary. It would be interesting to have a parallel to PageRank called AuthorRank, based on a convention for digitally signing web pages.

 

The desktop opportunity
Ray Ozzie's sudden and dramatic appearance in blogspace has got a lot of people thinking about a lot of things. For Jeremy Zawodny, Ray's latest essay on leverage and reuse prompts a line of thought about what open source really could mean on the desktop: ...
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8/12/2002; 4:06:40 PM
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Ray Ozzie's sudden and dramatic appearance in blogspace has got a lot of people thinking about a lot of things. For Jeremy Zawodny, Ray's latest essay on leverage and reuse prompts a line of thought about what open source really could mean on the desktop:

But none of what I do is in the space of desktop applications...There really is nothing like ODBC, ADO, or OLEDB on Linux/Unix that has much traction...What about printing...?...The list goes on. There's a lot of common plumbing that's not there...Linux application developers haven't built the necessary cultural infrastructure to enable the level of component reuse needed to make Linux an appealing platform for application developers. [Jeremy Zawodny's blog]

Obviously I agree. It has long pained me that the radically productive tools of the open source world, and the amazing ingenuity of the people who inhabit that world, have made so little direct impact on most people's lives. Sure, we all depend on Internet infrastructure, but what we see and touch (and love to hate) is desktop software that cries out for a heavy dose of open source energy and methodology.

I'd go farther than Jeremy, and suggest that the primary cultural problem is not simply reluctance to build and then reuse components. More fundamentally, it's that the status economy described by Eric Raymond revolves around infrastructure rather than end-user applications. I once asked several open source gods: "Does the idea of millions of people using your software, and being empowered by it, excite you?" The answer was (paraphrasing): "Nope. We build infrastructure that we hope will impress other hackers. If they in turn use it to build apps that make lots of users happy, fine, but we're not interested in that." I found that shocking, and still do.

I would like to see Linux succeed on the desktop. Microsoft needs OS competition to keep it honest and on its toes. But I wish Linux and open source were not so nearly synonymous. That tight coupling works to the advantage of neither, and there are extraordinary opportunities at hand. Desktop software has grown dreadfully stale and boring. That's going to change as SOAP endpoints arrive on the desktop and inject new life into client-side software. The creativity, programming skills, and can-do attitude that open source developers have evolved working in the cloud will become relevant in new and even more interesting ways. Miguel sees this, but Evolution (so far) calls itself "a PIM for Linux/UNIX," not simply "a better PIM." My hope for Mono is not just that it could make Linux more viable. I also want the mainstream Windows platform to have access to the abundance of open source talent. Seems to me that could make the phrase "open source business model" sound a little less hollow than it presently does.

 

Feedback on deployment descriptors
Whenever I write about basic issues of software configuration and use, it seems to touch a nerve and provoke a flood of responses. Here are some reactions to Saturday's deployment descriptors item. ...
pubdate
8/12/2002; 10:37:52 AM
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Whenever I write about basic issues of software configuration and use, it seems to touch a nerve and provoke a flood of responses. Here are some reactions to Saturday's deployment descriptors item.

Paul Kulchenko:

I'm glad I'm not the only one who struggles with custom configuration. I'm doing installations for my co-workers and would like to be able to set up proper configuration with minimal effort. The easiest way that I found is probably to use radioStartupCommands.txt file, which is executed at every startup. The problem is that weblogData.root (which is where the most preferences are stored) is not opened when radioStartupCommands.txt is executed, so I need to open the database myself in radioStartupCommands.txt. Any ideas on how to do that? Ideally I would like to have "Save configuration as" button that will create that file with ALL setting I currently have, so I can enable/disable some of them and update Radio configuration. [Paul Kulchenko]

Those are all great questions. I can't answer them but I'll hope that passing them along here will help flow some answers through the system.

Kevin Donovan:

I got here after reading your dream for a deployment descriptor (link from SN) and while it's not all you hope for, I couldn't help thinking of the humble .emacs file and the generative, interactive 'Customize Emacs' utility.

Granted the gui could be A LOT better but a lot of applications out there could do worse than to mimic the eternally flexible emacs configuration system. [Kevin Donovan via email]

Agreed. In Radio, UserTalk plays the role that Lisp does in emacs, but you're right to note that emacs is slicker in the way it enables you to generate and collect the scripted expressions.

The more I think about this, though, the more I see the need for a system-wide UI for describing and sharing app behavior, and for a language-neutral (i.e. XML) representation of such behavior.

Paul Philp:

There was a problem in your script for changing the item layout. The quotes are a bit off. Here is the corrected version. Also, newlines must be removed after the cut and paste into QuickScript. [Paul Philp via email]

Ah, thanks for pointing that out. In fact the descriptor I wrote and conveyed to my colleague was correct, w/respect to newlines and quotes. It's the infernal DHTML edit control that mangled those things when I posted, edited, and reposted. The universal canvas can't come a moment too soon for me.

Steven Vore:

FWIW... just about the only thing that I found "better" in Outlook 2002 (over 2000) is that it's got a "save configuration" option that makes this sort of thing easier. I was able to "clone" my setup on one system onto a new laptop - all my customized toolbars, signatures, etc. That was nice.

(I ended up going back to Office 2000 because there wasn't enough new "goodness" to overweigh the new annoyances, but that's another story.) [Steven Vore, via email]

Chief among the new annoyances, I suppose, is the "phone-home" behavior. It would take an awful lot of goodness to outweigh that, for me.

While we're in tips 'n tricks mode, by the way, here's one related to the GoogleBox from Singing Banzo:

I'm playing with the googlesearch api, and I already have it in my blog (after fierce fight). Anyway, I have a tip maybe you can be interested in: In the old page (http://radio.weblogs.com/0100887/) you have 'Top 10 hits for "limits of transparency" and in number 8 you have a blank entry. This is because that page has no title. Anyway, in these cases you can have a link to it by adding   in the template at the end of each title.

Good idea! In system.verbs.apps.google.macros.box I've changed from searchengine.stripmarkup (adr^.title) + "</a>" to searchengine.stripmarkup (adr^.title) + "&nbsp;</a> which does, in fact, leave a small but clickable link in case of a blank title. Note than when you make a change like this, it's subject to being overwritten by a radio.root update.

Finding system.verbs.apps.google.macros.box is, of course, a challenge in itself. I've learned to open radio.root and use the Find command, but if you search for, say, 'google', you will have to hunt through a bunch of tables. It's a lot like trawling the Windows registry. While I'm in a blue-sky mode, let's add one more fantasy: a system-wide search service that works in a consistent Google-like way across all local app and system config data.

 

Radio deployment descriptors
A few weeks ago, I spent some time showing an InfoWorld colleague, Mark Jones, how I use Radio. As always in this kind of situation, I was reminded of: ...
pubdate
8/10/2002; 11:24:18 AM
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A few weeks ago, I spent some time showing an InfoWorld colleague, Mark Jones, how I use Radio. As always in this kind of situation, I was reminded of:

- how much non-default configuration I depend on

- how little I remembered having done that configuration

- how hard it was to articulate, then transfer, that configuration

Another InfoWorld colleague, Steve Gillmor, was watching this, and he said: "You need a deployment descriptor." Exactly right. Now as we prepare to spin out some more Radio blogs, I've taken a first crack at writing that descriptor. Here's the UserTalk code that expresses my core non-default Radio prefs:

aggregatorData.prefs.flScanOnStartup = true; // I want fresh news at startup.

weblogData.prefs.flPublishOnPost = false; // I want three buttons: Post, Publish, and Post & Publish, so Post can be used for local previewing.

weblogData.prefs.flTitleAndLinkOnPostForm = true; // I want to write titled items.

weblogData.prefs.flAutoGenerateLinks = true; // I want Radio to generate links for those titles.

user.radio.prefs.ctStoriesOnNewsPage = 300;  // I want more than the default 100 stories shown in the aggregator (news reader).

user.radio.prefs.flNewsPageDeleteCheckboxesDefault = true; // I want those stories checked by default, so I can mass-delete. Then I just need to uncheck the ones I want to focus on.

// Here's one that stumped me when I set up a friend's blog. I turned on titling, but completely forgot that the item template needs to have <%itemTitle%> added in order for the titles to display. This line rewrites the item template to include that macro:

file.writeWholeFile (user.radio.prefs.wwwFolder + "#itemTemplate.xml",
"<table width=\"100%" cellpadding="1"> <tr><td valign="top"> <p><b><%itemTitle%></b> </p> <p><%itemText%><font class="small" size="-1"
color="gray"><%when%>&nbsp;&nbsp; <%permalink%>&nbsp;&nbsp;<%editButton%></font></p></td></tr></table>"
);

To acquire this configuration into an instance of Radio, you fire up the GUI app (on Windows, right-click the tray icon, select Open Radio), use CTRL-; to open the QuickScript window, paste in the code, and click Run.

Here's another piece of deployment descriptor we'll probably use to streamline FTP configuration:

uname = "xxxxx";  // user name
user.radio.prefs.passwords.ftp = binary ("yyyyyy");

file.writeWholeFile (user.radio.prefs.wwwFolder + "#upstream.xml",
"<?xml version=\"1.0"?><upstream type="ftp" version="1.0"><username>" + uname + "</username><passwordName>ftp</passwordName> <server>xxx.yyy.com</server> <path>/x/y/z/weblog/" + uname + "/</path><url>http://weblog.infoworld.com/" + uname + "/</url><mode>passive</mode></upstream>"
);

Using this as a template, another script (I'd do that one in Perl, probably) can swap in appropriate values to create user-specific descriptor text that takes care of FTP setup.

Here's another piece we might use:

user.google.key = "xxxxxxxxxx";

In other words, each user who runs a GoogleBox need not necessarily have to apply for a Google key. A set of them can be administratively acquired; the GoogleBox macro can be included in a standard template; the deployment descriptor can stamp keys into instances of Radio.

There's nothing new here, and you can do this kind of thing in many apps, but it's never as easy as you'd like. UserTalk happens to be a particularly nice way to express preferences in a portable and executable way, but discovering how to do it is a bit of a treasure hunt. Look at the various tables (aggregatorData.prefs, user.radio.prefs, weblogData.prefs, user.google) and files (#itemTemplate.xml, #upstream.xml) that are involved.

I happen to have dug deeply enough into Radio to be able to figure this stuff out, but normal users won't and shouldn't be expected to peer into the entrails. It's the same with, say, Outlook. Since becoming an Outlook user a few months ago, I'm constantly struck by how little of its useful but non-default behavior is available to most users. The problem, again, is one of first articulating, then transferring, the configuration I have achieved.

This is a general problem that I wish all apps would tackle in a consistent way. Given some configuration that varies from the default, enable the user to:

- ask for a description of the tweaks, in some standard XML grammar

- transfer that description (or a subset of it) to another user (or to another instance of the app owned by the same user)

While I'm dreaming, why not use peer-to-peer web services for this kind of thing? If I have Radio or Outlook behavior that you want, I ought to be able to grant you temporary access to my app so you can reach across using SOAP and grab the behavior that you need.  The mechanism  wouldn't be CTRL-; then QuickScript then Run in Radio, and something equally arcane in every other app. There would be a system-wide standard way to describe, share, and acquire application behaviors.


#
Some notes:
re: autodiscovery... some of the blo.gs entries actually already have the rss link included... and I'm currently thinking about using a AmpetaDesk like bookmarklet to add geeds to my list

re: sorting of feeds:
The reader itself 'remembers' the feeds I've viewed and ranks them after the last time I accessed/viewed them. It's a very simple form of interst filtering. Feeds I don't view go down, the ones I'm really interested in go up.


alles Bild, Text und Tonmaterial ist © Martin Spernau, Verwendung und Reproduktion erfordert die Zustimmung des Authors

Martin Spernau
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